Altered fall schedule, COVID-19 spell uncertainty for international students

(Archive Photo by George Walker | Collegian Media Group)

As K-State has started to release information regarding the modified fall semester, international students are facing even more challenges and uncertainty.

Although Vedant Kulkarni, senior in management information systems and journalism and mass communications, is still in Manhattan and won’t face travel restrictions himself, he voiced concerns for other international students in returning to campus this fall.

“I do know quite a few students who got to travel back either through repatriation flights or for spring break and they just didn’t have to come back,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni says the global travel restrictions have prevented many students from booking their flights. Moreover, he says the flight rates can be as high as $2,000 to $2,500 for some students, leaving many unable to afford those options.

With many international students not having the ability to travel back to Manhattan this fall, some might suggest online classes, but this option poses challenges for international students as well.

“Some international students actually have extremely poor internet connections, so doing online classes is quite a bit of a pain for them,” Kulkarni said.

Along with poor internet connection, the timezones in international students home countries also need to be taken into consideration.

“Being in another time zone, some students are 12 or 14 hours away, so if their classes are in the afternoon in Manhattan, some of them have to be in class at 3:00 in the morning in their home countries,” he said. “That kind of time difference caused them a lot of chaos in the last eight weeks of their spring semester, and that’s what they are worried about for the fall semester if they are unable to do in person classes.”

Cecilia Pick, senior in elementary education, also expressed her concerns about international students travelling back to K-State during the pandemic.

“In a way, I am thankful I stayed because that makes things easier for me to start the next semester,” she said via email. “However, as a student leader, I can’t help but be concerned about other international students that went home because of the pandemic. I have a lot of concerns at the moment because the situation for international students is a lot more complicated than just the distance that separates us from K-State.”

Among these concerns, Pick emphasized the difficulties international students could encounter in obtaining their I-20s and visas as a result of the start date of classes being moved up a week. Along with this, Pick said she is worried about international students having to travel to Manhattan in July in order to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine before classes begin. This is not only difficult because of the travel advisories, Pick said, but also potentially dangerous since international students’ health insurance coverage doesn’t start until August.

“That means students will travel during a dangerous global pandemic without health insurance,” she said. “There are so many challenges that need to be considered when it comes to international students.”

Kulkarni said he wants to reiterate how big of an impact the modified fall semester and the pandemic will have on international students.

“This is a unique circumstance that international students face and I think that’s one of the things that is generally not looked upon as important, but then when it actually becomes important, then it becomes a panicky situation where the administration panics, the students are panicking, and it’s just difficult to come to a solution,” Kulkarni said.

Pick agreed.

“I understand that K-State has been heavily affected by COVID-19 and that everyone is doing their best to navigate these unprecedented times,” Pick said. “I recognize the hard work that the university has put towards successfully helping K-State survive this. However, I do feel concerned about the lack of communication from K-State to international students. Traveling internationally is already complicated, and with these changes in the K-State Fall semester plan and the global pandemic, things are even worse. Time is crucial right now for students to plan and prepare accordingly, and K-State remains silent. I just feel like something needs to be said as soon as possible in order for students to have a chance to successfully and safely return.”

Leadership in the Office of Student Life and International Student and Scholar Services were unavailable for comment on this story at the time of publication.